Passengers hoping for some relief from the ever-shrinking size of airline seats got nothing from a federal judge this month.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to order the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to adopt minimum seat size and spacing on airlines. The ruling came despite the fact that Congress had ordered the FAA to do that very same thing in 2018.
FlyersRights.org, a public advocacy group, had sued to force the action, but the panel denied the request.
Judge Justin Walker, in his opinion for the panel, said there was no compelling evidence that tight seating posed medical risks or slowed emergency exits.
“To be sure, many airline seats are uncomfortably small. That is why some passengers pay for wider seats and extra legroom,” wrote Walker, according to Reuters. “But it is not ‘clear and indisputable’ that airline seats have become dangerously small.”
Forcing The Issue
FlyersRights.org had argued last year before the panel that minimum seat sizes were necessary.
“Congress and the public have made it clear that minimum seat standards are needed for passenger safety,” Paul Hudson, president of the organization, argued before the court. “Passengers have continued to grow taller, larger, and older while seats have continued to shrink. The FAA must examine how shrinking seats are jeopardizing passenger safety when it comes to deep vein thrombosis, emergency evacuation, and the brace position.”
The FAA did not comment on the court’s ruling.
According to FlyersRights, “The FAA has stated it views the statute as optional if it believes that seat standards are not necessary to ensure passenger safety.”
FlyersRights disagrees, noting the wording in the statute.
Section 577 of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act states that the FAA “shall issue regulations that establish minimum dimensions for passenger seats… including minimums for seat pitch, width, and length, and that are necessary for the safety of passengers.”
The FAA says it is currently reviewing public comment on the issue, even though the deadline set by Congress passed over 3 years ago.
Testing Taking Place
That fact weighed into the court’s decision.
“It’s not as if the FAA is refusing to look for that evidence,” the court wrote. “It has run emergency-exit tests, and it has reviewed nearly 300 real-world exits. But each time, there is little to ‘no discernable difference in evacuation times due to seat dimensions.’”
Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth told Forbes that the tests were completely unrealistic.
She noted the tests were run with half-full planes and passengers who were all able-bodied. There were no children in car seats, no senior citizens, nobody with disabilities, and nobody that didn’t speak English.
The conditions, Duckworth said, were not “real-world exits.”
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